In Defense of Guys

I commit the four grave sins of the Democratic Party. I am a middle-aged, straight, white man. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

Now, of course, you may have caught on that I’m being sarcastic there, but I’m constantly surprised at how many liberal men really are self-loathing. Here’s a comment I got from one of them recently after I wrote a piece on identity politics: “Consider this about identity politics: This city, county, state, country, world have traditionally been governed by white men and that hasn’t been great for people who are not white men. So let’s try to get more women, people of color, and other traditionally unrepresented groups involved in politics.”

First off, I don’t think my reader really means what he says. Does he really mean to imply that he would rather have another Clarence Thomas than another Stephen Breyer on the Supreme Court, or Betsy DeVos running the Department of Education rather than Arne Duncan, or Rep. Janel Brandtjen (who is demanding a “forensic audit” of Wisconsin’s election just like the one being done in Arizona by Cyber Ninjas) running the Assembly Elections Committee instead of, say, Rep. Gordon Hintz?

What my reader is really saying, I suspect, is that he wants the surface diversity of skin color and gender along with a rigid conformity of views. This sort of thing came up famously during the Women’s March of January, 2017. Organizers split over whether to welcome pro-life and other conservative women into the fold. It turned out that it wasn’t really a women’s march that the initial organizers had in mind, but a liberal women’s march.

Me: middle-aged, straight, white and male. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

I don’t disagree with the idea of having more people from all walks of life involved in politics. But I would say that the problem we have with politics at the national level isn’t a lack of women or people of color, but the dominance of a group of people with a strikingly similar educational background. Eight of the nine Supreme Court justices are graduates of Harvard or Yale. Ninety-five percent of members of Congress have a college degree while only one-third of Americans do. No less than 55 members, a little over 10%, of Congress went to one school: Georgetown.

And at the local level here in Madison, pressing for surface-level diversity is a solution in search of a problem. Women and minorities are over-represented compared to the population as a whole. Of the seven Madison Metropolitan School Board members, six are women and one is a Black man. Slightly more than half of the Madison City Council is people of color and just under half are women. That’s great, but if they’re doing a demonstrably better or worse job of running things than any group that came before them that would be news to me.

And as for real diversity — that is contrasting points of view — it would be easier for Donald Trump to pass through the eye of a needle than for a conservative to get elected to either of these bodies.

So, my first point is that when liberals say they want diversity, what they really mean is that they want to see people of different skin colors and gender identities in seats of power, but they want to hear them all say the same things.

My second point is that, if you want to be fair, then if you’re going to blame men for all the world’s problems, you have to credit them for everything that’s gone right. I would take that deal because, as Steven Pinker points out in his excellent book “Enlightenment Now,” the world is undergoing an unprecedented and rapid improvement in just about everything. War, disease, poverty and human misery in general — while still present (see Afghanistan) — are all at their lowest levels in human history and quickly declining.

And this is thanks to science. liberal enlightenment values and capitalism, all inventions mostly of men. You’re welcome.

And as for progressive legislation, it was Congresses full of men who ended slavery and passed the Fourteenth Amendment, guaranteeing equal protection of the laws, a concept used in civil rights legislation for a century and a half. It was a Congress full of men who gave women the vote. And it was Congresses still dominated by men who passed New Deal, Great Society and voting rights legislation.

But let’s get serious. If you think it’s unfair and slightly ridiculous to credit only half the population with all the advances in human history, I would hasten to agree. So, can we also put to rest the equally ridiculous notion that all the horrors in the world are the responsibility of that same half?

Let me conclude, as I often do, by coming down to practical politics. Democrats are losing more elections than they need to lose in part because their brand is so tarnished among men.

The strategy of doubling down on women and minorities while dissing guys at every opportunity is not working. Consider this:

Despite all of Trump’s awful race baiting during four years in office he still did better with Black men in 2020 than he did in 2016 and that just continues a steady erosion in support for Democrats among Black men.

The same is true for Latino men. The overall Hispanic vote for Democrats eroded by four points between 2016 and 2020, but it absolutely crashed in Florida, where Joe Biden won the Latino vote by only five points, compared to 26 for Hilary Clinton. This cost Biden the state and the shift was driven by Latino men.

The 2014 Democratic candidate for governor, Mary Burke, lost white men, who made up 44% of the vote in Wisconsin that year, by 24 points. Had she lost them by a still substantial 11 points, she would have won the election. (I wasn’t able to do the same analysis for Tony Evers’ 2018 election because I couldn’t find the numbers, but I’d be surprised if they weren’t pretty much the same.)

All of which is to say that the Democrats don’t need to win the male vote; they just need to not lose it by this much. But you can’t lose a demographic this big by these margins and hope to make it up by winning other groups by overwhelming margins. And worse for the Dems, a couple of those other groups (Black men and Hispanics) are trending in the opposite direction.

Democrats would do well to distance themselves from the men-bashing of the hard-left. And liberal men would do well to stop with the self-loathing already.

Welcome to the 184th consecutive day of posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading!


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

6 thoughts on “In Defense of Guys

  1. Totally agree about the goal of what I call “cosmetic diversity”. My family has found that in our experience as well – many self-identified liberals we’ve met want cosmic diversity but not diversity of thought (not to say conservatives want either one). I want diversity of thought and equitable access to/within institutions. With that the cosmetic diversity will follow. I love Trump supporters as much as I love Marxists – we are all One and we need to work together to survive. I want us to talk about our differences in opinion and debate and be around people who think differently so long as we keep to the basic ground rules of non-violence and the recognition of each others’ right to exist.

    I disagree on the general line of thought regarding the historical contributions of white men. I agree that nobody should at all feel bad about their own race or gender and that a white man doesn’t have to answer for or represent all white men, just like nobody else should. But I see western history as that of an ideology that happened to be shared among European leaders at a particularly fortuitous point in time. Without going into great detail, this ideology is essentially capitalist/individualist and was white-male-centered. And the article specifically credits capitalism as a contributor to the greatness of our current world.

    Classifying the actions carried out under this ideology as good or bad is subjective. The author breaks it down to fairly universal concepts of war, disease, poverty. On the face of it those things seem to be improved, but objective data would be useful. And historical objective data is difficult as it is also shaded by those that wrote the history (the victors, as the phrase goes). But I didn’t read the referenced book so I’m not sure how that author supports their conclusions.

    And there is nuance to this as well. Is poverty in and of itself bad? If a person has secure shelter, a food source, freedom over their own life, but little to no money is that a bad life or a good life? Do more people worldwide really have secure access to food and shelter now vs 200 years ago? I don’t know.

    Consider medical advances. Do we know the true costs of these? Do all of them truly improve quality of all life, or just move suffering around? How many animals are tortured to create some of the drugs? What sorts of pollution does the industry create? If we take the One-ness of life to heart these questions need to be considered on the balance sheet.

    We’ve advanced bio weapons research so much that its plausible that we could accidentally release a virus that could kill us all (not saying Covid is or isn’t lab made, just saying that bio-weapons do exist and this can happen). Is that progress?

    Do we really have less violence/war? It seems that everywhere I look people are killing each other, and we’ve created more and more ways for the killing to be more easily carried out through technology. 1000 years ago you’d have to at least fight someone straight-up and risk your own life, now you can destroy an entire city at the touch of a button. Is that a less violent world or a more violent world?

    Consider measuring the success of an ideology by the chances of the survival of our species and other forms of life on earth. Under that measure I would argue that this ideology is and has failed. A chemical company can invent a chemical that appears to be “safe enough”, allow it to spread into our water supplies, and it will poison us (think PFAS). That’s what we call technological progress under this ideology and that behavior is common.

    I argue we need to redefine “success” towards one that affirms and supports all life on Earth. Capitalism/individualism is an ideology that is ultimately of death and destruction. It is literally premised on the selfishness of individual humans. Every religion I know of teaches that selfishness is bad. Maybe let’s try deploying an unselfish ideology and see what happens… it’s clear where selfishness is leading us and it doesn’t seem like a bright future to me.


  2. Thanks for incorrectly expanding on my point to make your own hamfisted argument. In fact, I want to hear what people different from me have to say. You don’t know me or anything about me, so don’t put words in my mouth. Your lack of understanding for what people mean when they refer to systemic racism is disappointing, but not surprising. When you sarcastically apologize for being a white man, you do a disservice to the very real consequences of white male privilege. In Madison, we’re great at pushing to get what we want while paying lip service to honoring people of color. It’s garbage. People of color in our faces is what’s required to start shifting the balance of power, education, societal benefits and more.


    1. It’s interesting, but not surprising, that Michael chooses to make personal attacks without dealing with any of the specific points I made in my piece. For example, how would he deal with a choice between appointing a Clarence Thomas v. a Stephen Breyer to the Supreme Court?


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